Rescuing an Injured Young Sea Lion at Point Dume

By Sarah Stockman
Staff Writer

Afew weeks ago, my mom and I took my visiting grandparents to Point Dume. We packed a lunch, drove about 35 minutes up PCH and hiked over the hill to Dume Cove. By the time we reached the beach we were ready to relax in the shade and eat our sandwiches.

Except a small sea lion blocked our path. She lay eyes half closed, breathing heavily as the incoming tide swept over her. On closer examination my grandfather discovered a fishing line coming from her mouth. “She’s not doing well,” he said, shaking his head.

“Who do we call?” my mom asked. I had no idea. Although I grew up in Pacific Palisades, I had never run across an injured marine animal. To make matters worse, we were standing at the base of a cliff so there was no cell service.

Sea lion yearling hangs around by its pool at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach. The number of sea lions rescued on the coast is above average for the season.

After a few minutes of aimlessly wandering with my phone held high, I climbed up the rickety stairs to the top of the hill in search of service. I wanted to call my friend Andrea, a wildlife major at Humboldt State University. She would know what to do.

I stopped when one bar flickered across my screen and sent Andrea a text, worried I didn’t have enough cell service to make a call. She told me I should call the California Wildlife Center and gave me their number.

Fingers crossed, I dialed the number. I smiled as the phone rang and I was instructed to press #1 for an injured marine animal. Within seconds a man picked up the phone and asked me a series of questions: How big was the animal? What did it look like? Where was it located? The phone cut out twice, but he patiently waited until cell service returned.

He told me that a team would be out within an hour. I asked if there was anything I could do but he said no, just stay away so the sea lion doesn’t get more distressed.

I thanked him and returned to my family. We kept our distance, eating our sandwiches and feeling glum. After 45 minutes we left because my grandparents had a flight to catch. I couldn’t look at the sea lion as we passed, she seemed so sad.

On our way up we passed a man and a woman with a large net. “Are you here for the sea lion?” I asked.

They nodded. “Where is she?”

I pointed down the beach. They thanked me and headed off to do their job.

From the top of the hill we watched them net our sick sea lion. I was relieved. At least now she might get some help and, if worst came to worst, she could be put out of her misery.

Two days later I called the California Wildlife Center, curious to know how the sea lion was doing. The woman who answered the phone was happy to help, although she was sad to report that the sea lion had not survived the night. She had too much internal damage from two fishing hooks.

The woman then told me that the sea lion was a female yearling who had recently left her mother’s side to live on her own. The woman theorized that she got herself caught either while trying to eat the live bait of a fisherman or by swimming into the line since it’s hard to see underwater.

If you find an injured animal, report it to the California Wildlife Center at (818) 222-2658. Keep your distance from the animal since it could hurt you or you could hurt it. You can view the center’s website here

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